Memories of India & Backwater Pics of Kerala

Trip Start Apr 17, 2001
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113
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Palmy Residency

Flag of India  , Kerala,
Sunday, March 8, 2009

The 'mass of humanity' and the 'stink' were just a few of the scary words that I'd heard about India, before leaving Toronto. When we arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi back in mid-January it felt more like Toronto Island Airport than Pearson International. All of the people seemed to have gone somewhere else and taken their smells with them. The drive from Delhi Airport to New Delhi was far less busy than a run from Pearson to Yonge and Bloor in Toronto's downtown core at midnight would be. The reason of course is that here in western society most of us require our own personal people moving devices. In India - and lucky for them - that is simply not possible. What they have as an alternative are planes, trains and buses. And the beauty of this as a western traveler is that your options become both simple and wide ranging. India has an extensive rail system. You can choose to be alone simply by paying a little extra for sleeper compartment seating with A/C. The cost isn't much for the westerner, but prohibitive for a good many Indians. And if you want a bit adventure you can simply buy an inexpensive first-come-first-served, find your own seat in the 'mass of humanity' train car.

Once we got on an early morning cheapo train where there was a fellow sleeping lengthways along an entire bench seat. I simply sat on his feet. When he let out a bit of a yelp, I smiled and said "I sorry. I didn't see you there." He quickly sat up.

Where trains don't go, buses do. They're crowded, inexpensive and great for getting stared at. I came to like the stares - no one pays any attention to me in Toronto. Once, at a nature reserve, we came upon a group of well off locals who'd just seen a pair of tigers at close range. When they saw us, the tigers were all but forgotten. Out came the SLR digitals and snappity, snap, snap. Ellen and I became the focus of attention.

We took a couple of domestic flights. One from Udaipur in Rajasthan to Bombay and another from Bombay to Goa. The flights were each about an hour long and we were fed tasty meals and given warm blankets on both. Try asking Air Canada when dinner will be ready on your next five hour flight across the continent. And you better have a toonie in your pocket if you catch a chill. Air Canada rents their blankets now.

Another travel option in India is to hire a car and driver. This is an expensive way of getting from A to B, but worth considering. We hired a car to take us (11 hours) from Jaisalmer to Udaipur. The roads, some of them four-lane, were so clear that camels, goats, cows and dogs made better use of them than the 'mass of humanity'. Once as we sped along the highway we came across a small puppy sleeping right in the middle of the road. Neither the driver nor the pup was concerned as we simply swerved around the sleeping canine.

As the weeks went on we became more and more able to deal with the hassling shopkeepers. One time we walked by a clothing store where the comical clerk, realizing we weren't going to pay him a visit shouted, "Come into my store and let me rip you off."

Another time, out of the corner of my eye I saw a fellow coming up behind me with bundles of shirts, scarves and jewellery.
I unbuckled my wristwatch. Before the street seller had a chance to utter a word I turned on him and said, "You want buy watch? I make you very good price, only 40,000 rupees." His jaw dropped as he looked at me strangely. "How much you pay? You my first customer today. First customer always bring good luck, for you, only 30,000 rupees. Come, look at my watch. It beautiful Seiko, my friend make in his shop." By now I was speaking loudly as the shirt and jewellery man was almost out of ear-shot.

India is a decent travel destination. For the most part the people are wonderful. The food is fabulous. And they have an infrastructure that works. I'd expected mostly 20- something backpackers. They were there, but the bulk is older folks, often hobbling on weakened knees and hips. It's definitely a vacation spot, not the adventure destination I'd been expecting.

Oh, and the 'stink' I mentioned earlier. The water-filtration plant at Ashbridges Bay a few kilometres east of our home in Toronto can be worse than anything I smelled in India.
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